Google is upping its investment in outside research projects, pledging $5.7 million (£3.58 million) in funding to university projects in four areas.

The advertising giant has "identified four extremely important areas, both to Google and to society," according to comments made by vice president of research and special initiatives Alfred Spector to the New York Times. These are: machine learning; using mobile handsets as data collection devices in science; energy efficient computing; and, interestingly enough, privacy.

The grants concentrate mainly on projects at US universities, although one is earmarked for an as-yet unnamed project at Cambridge here in the UK. Each grant varies in size from $100,000 (£63,000) to a whopping $1.5 million (£940,000) - a significant increase on those previously offered by the company.

While many of the areas Google has opted to fund make a great deal of sense - chief among them machine learning, which could help create better search results and more targeted advertising, and energy efficient computing projects, which could help reduce the company's energy expenditure in its datacentres - the choice to invest in privacy research is an interesting one. With many privacy advocates decrying Google's lax approach to the subject - with some even choosing to risk the loss of funding to warn users to switch to Microsoft's Bing - it seems odd that the data hoarding advertising giant would invest in such projects.

The funding - which has identified twelve projects in total - will give Google a head-start in the areas identified, but how much usable technology or innovation will result and how quickly such research will make it to the company's products remains to be seen.

Are you impressed to see Google spending some of its vast fortunes on such research, or does the inclusion of privacy research smack of hypocrisy? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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